Farmers Reflect On Drought

Originally published on August 19, 2012 6:20 pm
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CHERYL CORLEY, HOST:

This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Cheryl Corley.

This summer, we've seen record heat, and farmers have taken a beating. And just this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared nearly 1,700 U.S. counties as disaster areas because of the drought. Wayne Humphreys has been a farmer for 40 years. He says his farmer's intuition kicked in once the heat came and the rain stopped.

WAYNE HUMPHREYS: During the day, their leaves will curl and point straight skyward. Looks a lot like a pineapple leaf. And they did not uncurl. They do not relax during the evenings because it was so warm.

CORLEY: Humphreys has insurance so he's covered under the current farm bill, which gives him some small relief. He says this summer is like a pay cut.

HUMPHREYS: This is a flat tire. This is a fender bender. It is not a head-on collision for agriculture.

CORLEY: But the story is different for livestock farmers. The current bill does not cover livestock, and Congress failed to vote on a new farm bill before its August recess. Nicholas Smith is co-owner of United Livestock Commodities in Mayfield, Kentucky. He says the biggest problem for his 500 to 600 customers has been a shortage in feed supply.

NICHOLAS SMITH: It's causing a lot of them to have to sell their filler cow herds, you know, they've had for years, soy whole pellets, corn glue, of course, distillers made from ethanol. You know, they all come from grain somehow. There's a bakery feed, lot of cookies. You know, you can only see the small percentage of any of that.

CORLEY: Smith has only raised and sold cattle for 10 years, but the 29-year-old has wizened up to the trick of his trade.

SMITH: Farmers are pretty much the most optimistic people you'll ever meet. They're always thinking next year will be better. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.